Google “Marissa Mayer” and look at the result count. The number will be in the neighborhood of 5.8 million. Now google “Indra Nooyi”. You’ll get about 570,000, about a tenth as many. Why is that? After all, Indra Nooyi has been the CEO of Pepsi, a company worth 135 billion dollars, for 8 years. Marissa Mayer has been Yahoo’s CEO for just 2 years, and it’s a company worth only 33 billion dollars.
Nooyi is, by far, the more experienced executive. She has a proven track record of delivering shareholder value. She’s been named the most powerful woman in Corporate America by Fortune for two years. So why does Mayer generate so much more buzz? It’s because Marissa Mayer looks like this.
Reading the title of my article, and you might be wondering why I’m using Mayer as an example of why women aren’t in technical positions. After all, she got her M.S in computer science from Stanford! She was first hired as an engineer at Google! But what is she now? The CEO of Yahoo. The role of corporate executives are not technical in nature. And a lot of the value they deliver is in the form of salesmanship and showmanship.
The circumstances of her arrival at Yahoo were tumultuous. The company had gone through 6 CEOs in 5 years. It had been bleeding market share and market capitalization for a decade. It was desperate to make a splashy hire. So they chose an extremely attractive, well respected female executive from Google. Her hire garnered the company immediate accolades and publicity. Journalists and writers fawned over her from the get-go. Tech companies are more likely to be in the public eye, so why not give them something aesthetically pleasing to look at?
Think about it. This was a woman who was the wet dream of nerds everywhere. But she didn’t stay in tech. She took on the role of CEO, where appearances count for so much more. What is the takeaway from that? If you’re an attractive woman and proficient at your technical position, society will give you a more important, high profile role. And thus you’ll have one less woman in tech.
Society has an extremely hard time separating a woman’s worth from her physical attractiveness. The two are essentially coupled to each other. If you ever read the biographies/interviews of female actresses and models (did I give myself away there?), you’ll notice a common thread: they were found/discovered early on, usually in high school or the first two years of college. Some “talent” scout thought they were hot and offered them something that they couldn’t refuse. It doesn’t matter whether they were smart, or talented, or capable of being so much more than a person who’s paid to be pretty. They took one look at the headline offer and signed on the dotted line.
Technical fields, like software development and engineering have no use for prettiness. It’s one of the few white collar jobs where you’re judged solely on the results. The stuff you create either works or it doesn’t. You can’t get away with being a pleasant, attractive, well-spoken person if you can’t do your job. Those kinds of people wash out of the field very quickly.
But a job like a receptionist is simple from a cognitive standpoint. And the vast majority of receptionists are female, many of them young and attractive. What does that tell you? That the value of a receptionist is only partially related to the official responsibilities of the job. A lot of it is derived from the receptionist being attractive. The more importance a job places on physical appearance, the more likely it is to be filled by women.
Intelligent women are much more likely to occupy roles in the front of the office rather than those in the back. There’s only so much value one software developer can contribute to the bottom line of a company. But managerial roles are much more important, because they dictate where and how the company’s assets get deployed. Any woman who’s smart enough to be a software developer or an engineer is also smart enough to realize she isn’t fulfilling her potential by staying in that field.
And that is the reason why there are no women in technology.